Thursday, October 29, 2015

Antiquarian Book News

Self Portrait of Charlotte Bronte

Although previously thought to be of another pupil an illustration drawn while Charlotte Brontë was at boarding school in Brussels has now been identified as a self-portrait. The literary biographer Claire Harman said the drawing, which she suggests shows Brontë looking into a mirror, preceded the novel Jane Eyre, in which the protagonist also draws herself in a similar fashion. The sketch dates from 1843, four years before Brontë published Jane Eyre.

The sketch has an awkward pose, with one hand under the chin and it is supposed that it was drawn in front of a mirror. The drawing was known to be by Brontë, not least because it was sketched on her school atlas. But it has remained unpublished until now. It is owned by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

Claire Harman, who has established the likeness, commented on the sketch’s significance, saying that readers yearn to know what a favourite author looks like: “If you love an author and their work, you have a strong empathy with them … You want to be able to imagine them and commune mentally with them as a person.”

The sketch is small – about 1.5 inches high – its facial details resemble those in an 1850 image by George Richmond, now in the National Portrait Gallery, although the artist was known to flatter his sitters.  One other contemporary likeness was part of a group portrait painted by Charlotte’s brother Branwell. 

Middle England Mapped Out

A map of Middle Earth which was annotated by the author of the Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien, has recently been discovered.  The rare document was found in an old copy of The Lord of the Rings in Blackwell’s Rare Books in Oxford. The book had belonged to the illustrator Pauline Baynes, who collaborated with Tolkien on a colour map of Middle-earth that was published in 1970. The map is to be sold for £60,000. A Blackwell’s spokesperson believes this to be, “perhaps the finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge in the last 20 years at least.”

The map is heavily annotated and demonstrates how painstakingly particular Tolkien was about the details of his imagined world, and offers new insight into the background of Middle Earth. The author notes that Hobbiton “is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford,” and, according to Blackwell’s, implies that “the city of Ravenna [in Italy] is the inspiration behind  Minas Tirith – a key location in the third book of the Lord of The Rings trilogy.”

Limestone Flake gives clue to new alphabet

A flake of limestone (ostracon) inscribed with an ancient Egyptian word list of the fifteenth century BC turns out to be the world’s oldest known abecedary. The words have been arranged according to their initial sounds, and the order followed here is one that is still known today. This discovery by Ben Haring (Leiden University) with funding from Free Competition Humanities has been published in the October issue of the 'Journal of Near Eastern Studies'.

The order is not the ABC of modern western alphabets, but Halaḥam (HLḤM), the order known from the Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Arabian and Classical Ethiopian scripts. ABC and HLḤM were both used in Syria in the thirteenth century BC: cuneiform tablets found at site of ancient Ugarit show both sequences. Back then, ABC was still ’-b-g (’aleph-beth-gimel). This sequence was favored by the Phoenicians who passed it on to the Greeks, together with the alphabet itself.

The ostracon was found over twenty years ago by the British Egyptologist Nigel Strudwick in an Ancient Egyptian tomb near Luxor. The text has never been understood, however, until it was deciphered by Ben Haring, a Dutch Egyptologist working at Leiden University. The text is an incomplete list of words written in hieratic, the cursive script used in Ancient Egypt for some 3,000 years. To the left is a column of individual signs that appear to be abbreviations of the words. Very possibly they even render the initial consonants of the words, which would make them alphabetic signs.

This ancient Egyptian word list of the fifteenth century BC is the earliest known example of a list arranged according to their initial sounds. It gives a vital insight into the earliest known stages of the alphabet.

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